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Media Meltdowns

Thom Brennaman Is Sorry For Saying The Word “Fag,” And Not Much Else

Screencap: Fox Sports Ohio

Just in time for the start of the NFL season, Thom Brennaman has grown as a person and learned from the experience of saying a homophobic slur on a live broadcast. The play-by-play announcer hasn’t worked since August 19, after the Cincinnati Reds suspended him indefinitely from their local broadcasts and Fox took him off the 2020 NFL schedule for describing some unknown location as “one of the fag capitals of the world” during what he thought was an off-air moment in a Fox Sports Ohio broadcast of Reds-Royals. Now he appears to be inching toward a return to TV through the most predictable means imaginable.

In an article published Tuesday by the New York Post, Brennaman made his first public comments about his homophobic remark since he apologized on air—while pausing to call a Nick Castellanos home run—and wrote a Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed the next day. The Post noted that the announcer has connected with a pair of prominent gay men in Cincinnati who are “treating Brennaman as a reclamation project.” But Brennaman himself is noticeably cagey in the quotes, as he confesses to the word he said without reckoning with the longstanding homophobia it implies.

Brennaman, who was born in 1963, tells the Post he had never said “fag” before in his life, and he doesn’t talk about any of the context surrounding his hot-mic moment. Personally, what I’ve found most fascinating out of this whole affair is the sheer absurdity of the phrase “one of the fag capitals of the world” coming up in the middle of a baseball game. It was between Kansas City and Cincinnati, for God’s sake—where would he even be referring to? Brennaman himself says he does not know.

“Everything happened so fast,” he told the Post. “And I’m watching literally everything fall apart at the seams while trying to announce a baseball game. I couldn’t even tell you what happened, where it came from. … Look, I said it is all that matters. The rest of it is irrelevant. I said it. And I own it. And I’m the one who has to live with it.”

Brennaman’s version of events expects the audience to believe these things:

  1. Brennaman, 56, said the word “fag” for the first time in his life on Aug. 19, 2020.
  2. He has no idea why he said it, what point he was trying to make, or what the context of the conversation was.
  3. If he has attempted to gain a better understanding of why he said “fag” during that broadcast, he has failed.
  4. He has owned his mistake and, if he gets a new job, “someone will be hiring a better person than the person who walked out the door that night on Aug. 19.”

What the announcer seems to be doing is canny PR strategy: When everybody already has a negative opinion of you, why confess to more sins than the one that’s already public? But the way he appears to understand his failure is startlingly incorrect. In effect, by calling everything else about the exchange “irrelevant,” Brennaman is apologizing not for homophobia, but for saying the letters F, A, and G all in a row together after most of society agreed we shouldn’t do that.

The word “fag,” in itself, is not necessarily hurtful. Though I recognize that some other gay men and trans women have differing views, I’m a strong supporter of its reclamation within our community because I’m proud of the transgressions, the rebellion, and the determination to be true to one’s self that it describes. When someone like Brennaman says it, however, the word implies something else: violence, hatred, and fear. He said the slur with a familiarity and a tone that indicated he wouldn’t have to think twice about it, because he had no respect for queer people who watched the network, who were Cincinnati Reds fans, who cared about baseball to some degree. Brennaman’s phrase describes a group of queer people who are unwelcome to him and, by extension, unwelcome in baseball, but it’s impossible to say for sure, because he won’t share more details of the conversation.

Though he’s not a particularly talented or beloved announcer, Brennaman appears to be on the right track toward a return to the booth, as he’s found gay allies who are both advocating for him and lending him unearned credibility. Cincinnati School Board member Ryan Messer has called on the Reds to reinstate the announcer, while local newscaster Evan Millward has vouched for Brennaman’s sincerity. Both characterized the incident as a teachable moment; Millward in particular seemed to put the onus on the queer community to actively forgive Brennaman’s offense.

“If we just shut people down, and tell them they’re trash and that they’re canceled, then we’re avoiding a difficult dialogue,” Millward told the Post.

To me, the only one who’s avoiding a difficult dialogue is Brennaman.